I once worked in a library where, despite a gigantic REFERENCE sign prominently located by the front entrance, patrons were constantly coming to circulation to ask where the reference desk was. Actually, patrons asked us about everything–often without looking at the prominently located floor plan or just about any sign in the building. (“We’re librarians,” my boss once said, with more than a little snark–“We like to put everything on little signs and then complain when no one reads them.”)

I’ve been thinking about signage and organization a lot lately, because my students seem to have a really hard time finding anything in my library. And I don’t just mean the Stephen King novels, which until recently were inexplicably shelved in the periodicals room.

Part of the problem is that I never got the chance to really give library orientations at the beginning of the year, and part of the problem is a funky layout (Stephen wasn’t the only one languishing in the periodicals room) that I haven’t quite gotten around to completely remedying.

But a bigger issue, I think, is the way my students want to find books. They’re browsers, and wanderers, and amblers. They stroll along the fiction shelves, and then end up coming back to the circulation desk and asking, “Do you have any books about…?” Or genre questions (“Where’s the science fiction?”), which are making me seriously reconsider the way our fiction is shelved–alphabetical by author, regardless of genre.

So how do you organize your collection? Are you still using strictly Dewey or LC call numbers, or do you operate more thematically? Do you separate popular genres out from fiction at large? Do you have a distinct location for graphic novels? What about non-fiction graphic titles? Are your shelf labels and signs exasperated-librarian-tiny, or supermarket-aisle-huge?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

4 Thoughts on “Dewey Shelvem & Howe

  1. Ha! Our high school library staff was having this signage conversation the other day. We have some large and some medium-size signs, but we’ve decreased the number of signs to clear out clutter (since no one really reads them anyway:). Our fiction is alphabetical by the authors last name, biographies are in a special sections, as are graphic novels, the rest is Dewey, and we have thematic displays on top of shelves and on slatwalls. We’ve recently done lots of in-shelf displays, which I think is more effective at showing a particular topic that a sign that says “sports.” We do get frequent questions like “Where is the romance section?” and we combat that with booklists that hang on hooks on the walls, such as “If you liked Twilight” or “Flirty and Fun Books to Love.” Kids can pick them up and find the books using the call numbers on the booklist. We have the same lists in our catalog as well. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for us!

  2. Last year, we started the process of shelving our fiction by genre. So far, it is working out very well. We have sections for: Historical Fiction/War, Classics, Mystery/Suspense/Horror, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Sports, Graphic Novels, Story Collections, and General Fiction. We are hoping to expand this to include sections for Romance and Teen Issues this year.

    We often have teachers who require their students to read a book within a certain genre (generally classics or historical fiction). With the genre categories, it is so easy to just point these students to that section, rather than having to search through the entire fiction collection to find a book that will fit the requirements and interest the student.

    At this point, we are still struggling with how to catalog these books in the computer, though. We put genre stickers on the spines, and shelve them based on the sticker, but there is no way to tell in the catalog which genre they are. This can get pretty confusing for the students who aren’t familiar with the categories, and even for us if we forget which genre we put a particular book in, so that is something we are trying to figure out how to correct.

    Our non-fiction collection is sorted in the traditional manner, except that we have a separate section for Memoirs because they have become very popular in our library. Most of our non-fiction graphic titles fall into the Memoirs category.

    We have signs at the end of each bookcase that tell what genres or non-fiction categories are found on that bookcase. These signs have a large graphic, the name of the section, and the call numbers if it is non-fiction. We also have these same signs posted on the shelves themselves to show the beginning of each new section. In the non-fiction shelves, the signs at the end of the bookcases are more general , while the ones on the shelves are more specific. i.e. at the end of the shelf there would be a sign for “The Arts”, and on the shelves, we would have signs for “drawing”, “painting”, “music”, “theatre”, etc.

  3. Up until recently our YA fiction area was strictly shelved by genre, and I loved it. I am a firm believer in shelving so teens can browse. We had the genre in the call #, i.e YA ROMANCE VAIL, so that helped everyone to find them on the shelf once they were located in the catalog. Unfotunately ours was the only branch to do this in our system and in the last year or so all call numbers have been regulated for consistency, which meant we lost the genre in the call #. Then we were faced with deciding how to shelve them. If we kept them by genre, then the browsers would be happy, but staff and patrons who use the catalog would have a hard time finding books. If we shelve them all the together then those who like to browse are out of luck.
    Ultimately we decided to integrate all the books by author, but we still use genre stickers. And we can also put the genre in Item Cat 1 of the records in Sirsi. Then using the power search feature, people can browse by genre if they choose, but I think staff use that feature than anyone else.

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